If you are considering a bankruptcy filing and haven’t been through the process before, you are sure to have questions. In the "Bankruptcy" tab of this site I tried to explain the benefits of bankruptcy and the process after you file. But what will the meeting with the lawyer be like? What do you need to bring? What should you be thinking about?
This section will try to remove some of the mystery and let you know what to expect. You can also view a list of documents you need to bring with you, and some questions to consider here.
I recommend that you set aside three to four hours for the meeting. If you decide to retain my services and file a bankruptcy case, we should be able to complete all the necessary steps in that time. (An initial consultation would normally take much less time.)
During our first meeting it’s important that we get to know each other. I’ll need to get your basic information, and you’ll have questions for me. I don’t like conference rooms and long, formal-looking meeting tables. I have a comfortable lounge area with sofas and a coffee table. We can start to discuss your issues in that informal setting. If you feel at home you will be more comfortable discussing your problems. That will help me get the information that I need to advise you.
If you decide to retain my services we will need to review four forms before moving forward. The forms are required by law, but I have done my best to remove the legalese.
Form #1 discusses the different types of bankruptcy relief available to you (such as Chapter 7 and Chapter 13). We will review these options together thoroughly, but by law, you have to receive a written statement with the same information.
What’s this all about? Lawmakers want to make sure you know all your options, and to discourage a practice where lawyers could automatically file your case under whatever chapter they specialize in.
Form #2 requires notice about the importance of providing complete, accurate and truthful information in your bankruptcy petition, including accurate valuations and income information.
A bankruptcy petition is filed under penalty of perjury, so it’s important that you take proper care with the information you provide.
Form #3 requires me (the attorney) to provide you with a list of what must be done in a routine bankruptcy case.
In this website I try to provide as much information about the bankruptcy process as possible. Lawmakers want you to be able to decide what is required in your bankruptcy case and whether or not you need to hire a lawyer to represent you.
Form #4 is the fee agreement. You will receive a copy of the agreement clearly listing the amount of the fee, how and when it will be paid, and the services that are covered or not covered by the fee agreement. I discuss typical fees and the services covered at other points on this website.
After those items are taken care of, we’ll each have a job to tackle:
If you haven’t done so already, you’ll need to take the mandatory credit counseling course. Everyone must take the course before filing a bankruptcy case. You can choose a provider from the officially approved list, and I will assist you with setting up and completing the course.
Meanwhile, I will obtain your credit report and begin work on your bankruptcy petition, schedules, and other documents.I’ll need a lot more information from you, but the credit report helps to flesh out all of the information about your creditors. (It’s important to include everyone that you might owe money to so that they will receive notice of the bankruptcy; if they do not receive notice of the bankruptcy case you might not be able to discharge that debt and lose an important benefit of filing.)
If this is a Chapter 7 case we will need to consider the treatment of any creditors who have your property as collateral. The Bankruptcy Code will require you to state whether you intend to keep or surrender the property. If you want to keep the property you will sometimes need to say whether you want to redeem or reaffirm those debts. (Those terms, and others, are explained under the Glossary tab.)
The two types of plans are: Good plans and bad plans!
If this is a Chapter 13 case, we’ll need to talk about the terms of your plan. I’ll go over exactly who is covered and the treatment each creditor will receive. Critically important to you is the monthly plan payment amount. Ideally, the plan payment will be less than the amount you need to pay your creditors right now. But sometimes the plan will call for paying off a big obligation (such as delinquency on your house or a tax debt) over several years. That may not lower your expenses immediately, but it would help you solve a problem over the long term. The circumstances will vary, but in every case, it has to be a good plan.
If it won’t accomplish what you need, it’s a bad plan!
If there’s no way you can afford to make the required payments, it’s a bad plan!
Once we have worked together to create a good plan for you, we’ll need to determine the way you will make the payments to the Trustee each month:
Payroll deduction from your employer is an excellent arrangement, when possible. With luck, the payments will be automatically withheld from your pay and sent directly to the Trustee, and your case will be on auto pilot.
If you’re paying directly, you’ll need to send the monthly payment to the Trustee each month. You can do that either by mailing a money order or cashier check, or using one of several online payment methods.
Either way, you will know exactly what you need to do when you leave so that you get off to a good start in your Chapter 13 Trustee payments.
Completely separate from Trustee payments is the Court filing fee. Filing fees are due whether you file for Chapter 7 ($335.00) or Chapter 13 ($310.00). You can pay the filing fee right away, or apply to pay in installments over 120 days. If you prefer to pay in installments, I’ll prepare that application and will provide you with envelopes and instructions on how, where and when to send the payments.
It’s important to remember that filing fees are paid to the Bankruptcy Court, not to the Trustee. The Trustee is a separate entity from the Bankruptcy Court!
Both Chapter 7 and 13 cases require many of the same types of forms. Specifically, you’ll need to file the “petition” (preliminary information about your identity, which chapter you’re filing under, and whether you’ve filed any other cases recently), eight different Schedules, and a Statement of Financial Affairs (you can read more details about these items in the Glossary). I’ll need information from you (see the detailed list here) so that I can prepare these items. Once we have gathered all of the information we will review the completed documents together to check that everything is correct and complete. When we are sure about that, you will need to sign the bankruptcy petition, Schedules, Statement of Financial Affairs, and a statement that your Social Security number was correctly listed.
Once you have signed these documents, your bankruptcy petition will be filed electronically with the Bankruptcy Court, and the “automatic stay” will apply and prevent most creditor activity. This should give you some immediate relief!
At this point, you will be just about done for the day. We will go over any questions that you have. If you need to make Trustee payments or filing fee payments, I will make sure you have all of the necessary information about how to do that. You’ll get a folder with this information and other useful items. We’ll also go over any “to do” list of open items that we still need to work on (don’t worry, I’ll remind you about those later, too). We’ll also look ahead to the next steps – the meeting of creditors and the confirmation hearing – so that you will know what to expect and how to prepare. You will have my contact information in case you have questions after you leave.
Once the case is filed I will contact any creditors that need immediate notice of the bankruptcy filing (for example, if your car has been repossessed, your wages are being garnished, or a foreclosure sale is planned). If it’s a Chapter 13 plan I will arrange for notice of the plan to be mailed to all creditors.
Shortly after the filing, I will receive information about the Judge and Trustee assigned to your case, and the date for your meeting of creditors. You should receive this information in the mail, too, but I will send you an additional notice along with a list of anything that we still need to work on in your case.